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Expert Q&A

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Would asthma show up ina chest X-ray?

Asked by Tamiika,

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Can you look at a chest X-ray and tell if someone has asthma?

Expert Bio Picture

Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

As defined by the National Institutes of Health, asthma is a chronic, or long-term, lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. It can be very difficult to diagnose asthma. A chest X-ray typically won't show if a person has asthma, but can tell if something else (such as pneumonia or a foreign body in the airway) could be causing symptoms similar to asthma.

Asthma is often diagnosed based on a person's history and physical exam. Commonly, there is coughing and wheezing that may be brought on by a cold or the flu, pollen in the air, changes in weather, exposure to smoke or exercise. There may also be chest tightness, shortness of breath and fast breathing. Other people in the family probably also have allergies or asthma. The doctor may recommend an asthma medicine to see if it will help decrease the symptoms and, if so, no further testing may be needed.

A special lung test called spirometry that shows how well a person can breathe out (exhale) can be very helpful in diagnosing and managing asthma. This type of test can be used in adults and in children over about 5 years of age and can check a person's breathing before and after using an asthma medicine to see how well it's working.

Blowing hard into a tube called a peak flow meter can also show if a person is having breathing problems. This type of test can be used at home to help people with asthma control their asthma attacks.

If the asthma symptoms are thought to be caused by an allergy to a food or something in the environment, blood or skin tests may be needed.

Since acid reflux can cause symptoms similar to asthma, the doctor may check for reflux and recommend a trial of medicine to treat it.

Asthma symptoms may be different in different people and so can be challenging to diagnose and treat. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you think you or your child may have this condition.

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